Stage set for ICL's second coming
Fresh bloodThe ICL has pulled off a huge coup by roping in Bond, who was among the best fast bowlers when fit. It has also signed on Damien Martyn, who will lead the other new team, the Ahmedabad Rockets, and a couple of batsmen with plenty of big-hitting ability, Justin Kemp and Lou Vincent. Besides the four, there are 20 other new overseas players in this year's tournament, including the 37-year-old Adam Parore, who has returned to the game after six years of retirement.
First-edition stand-outsA few players who were impressive in the first edition of the tournament are back to try and repeat their act. Among those who impressed last year were:
Ian Harvey: The former Australia allrounder emerged as the top scorer of the tournament with 266 runs from seven matches at 44.33, and he also took his team, the Chandigarh Lions, to the summit clash, where they eventually lost to the Chennai Superstars.
Marvan Atapattu: His strike-rate in ODIs is an ordinary 67.72, but Atapattu changed his game to suit the Twenty20 format. He emerged as the second-highest scorer, with 235 runs from six matches at 58.75, at a highly impressive strike-rate of 128.41.
Abdul Razzaq: Razzaq continued from where he left off in international cricket, blasting 13 sixes, the most in the tournament, on his way to being the fifth-highest run-scorer with an aggregate of 181 at a strike-rate of 163.06.
T Kumaran: Kumaran, the Chennai-based right-arm seamer who made a couple of appearances in India's ODI team in the late 1990s, was the bowler of the tournament, taking 13 wickets from six matches at 11.76. That included a match-winning 6 for 21 against Mumbai Champs.
Shabbir Ahmed: Frustrated with the Pakistan board's dithering over his selection and the constant question-marks over his action, Shabbir left it all behind and joined the Chennai Superstars, where he played a big part in their title-triumph, claiming 10 wickets at 10.40, while taking the tournament's first hat-trick in the final.
Teams to watch out forDefending champions Chennai Superstars are capable of performing a repeat act. They have Harvey to play the lead role with the bat, while Kumaran and Shabbir have shown themselves to be very capable with the ball.
Lahore Badshahs are the only team that comprise players from one country, and this fact alone could give them an edge. The Badshahs are led by Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has shifted base from the Hyderabad Heroes, and their bowling looks particularly strong, with the likes of Naved-ul-Hasan, Mohammad Sami, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq to choose from. They also have Imran Nazir, the attacking opener, to give their innings a boost at the start. Himanshu Mody, the ICL's business head, told Cricinfo that the Lahore Badshahs will "add a whole new dimension to the league".
Last year's finalist, the Chandigarh Lions, captained by the inspirational Chris Cairns, have been strengthened by arrivals of Matthew Elliott, the former Australian domestic run machine, and Vincent, while Andrew Hall and Daryl Tuffey will lead their bowling.
FormatA total of 34 matches - including a best-of-three finals - are in store between March 9 to April 7: the eight teams will play each oher once, with the top four teams going through to the semi-finals. The inaugural match will feature a day-night encounter between the Ahmedabad Rockets and the Chandigarh Lions in Panchkula. There will be one match every evening, and two per day on most of the weekends. There will also be two more venues this time - the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad and the Teri Oval in Gurgaon.
In a move that will keep potential advertisers happy, the Zee network has capitalised on its recent tie-up with the Dubai-based Ten Sports channel, and will simultaneously show the matches on two channels, Zee Sports and Ten Sports, thereby guaranteeing a significant increase in viewership in India.
How this tournament pans out will indicate if the ICL can offer sustained competition to the more glamorous IPL, which will launch its first edition in April.
Ashok Ganguly is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo